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Congenital Torticollis

Condition Basics

What is congenital torticollis?

Congenital torticollis (wryneck) happens at or shortly after birth. It means that your baby's head is tilted. The chin points to one shoulder, while the head tilts toward the opposite shoulder. Treatment is needed to make sure your baby's face and skull grow evenly. Treatment also prevents limited motion of the head and neck.

What causes it?

Congenital torticollis occurs when the neck muscle that runs up and toward the back of your baby's neck (sternocleidomastoid muscle) is shortened. This brings your baby's head down and to one side. This is known as congenital muscular torticollis.

Experts don't know exactly what causes the shortened neck muscle. It may be related to the child’s position in the womb or during birth. Your child may have neck muscles that are tight or weak. Sometimes there is an imbalance in the neck muscles.

Torticollis may also occur later in life, but this is not congenital torticollis.

What are the symptoms?

Your baby's head is tilted to one side. The chin points to one shoulder, and the head tilts toward the opposite shoulder. You may notice that your baby cannot move their head as well as other babies. You may also notice a lump in your baby's neck muscle.

How is it diagnosed?

The caregiver usually first notices that the infant always holds their head tilted to one side.

Your doctor will examine your baby. You may be asked questions about your baby's birth. An X-ray of the cervical spine may be done to rule out bone problems.

The doctor may also check your baby's hips. Some babies with this condition also have a hip problem called hip dysplasia.

How is congenital torticollis treated?

Treatment includes stretching your baby's tight neck muscle. You will do this several times a day. Your doctor or physiotherapist will teach you how to safely position your baby and do activities to help your baby’s neck muscles get stronger.

If your baby does not improve after a few months of stretching, contact your doctor.

The lump in the muscle often goes away on its own.


Adaptation Date: 11/23/2023

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

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